Preludes Quotes and Analysis

“You had such a vision of the street/As the street hardly understands;”

The street here is a metonym for the world. It is also another example of personification. The street understands, but "hardly"–it is alive, but dim. The “you” addressed here, this woman, even with her limited soul, has the consciousness to see for a moment a vision of the street, and so the world.

“I am moved by fancies that are curled/Around these images, and cling:/The notion of some infinitely gentle/Infinitely suffering thing.”

These lines evoke a human imagination at war with itself. Images come first, then fancies embrace these images. The speaker's vision of the city leads to an undeniable religious desire: city images evoke the image of “some infinitely gentle/Infinitely suffering thing,” referring to the infinite gentleness and suffering of Christ. The analytical part of his mind labels this religious impulse as mere “fancies” and a “notion.” Though his experience leads to religious impulse, the speaker is unable to trust this experience, and so intellectually distances himself from it.

“Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;/The worlds revolve like ancient women/Gathering fuel in vacant lots.”

The final lines of the poem combine a gesture with an evocative image. The gesture expresses embarrassment: the speaker is talking to himself, his intellect ordering the part of himself that was moved by religious fancies to stop. Religious impulses in the human imagination, the speaker suggests, were “impatient” to take command over the meaning of the world. But in the end, the world revolves: it moves circularly without end. The preludes continue over and over, without the advent of meaning; there is no messiah, no savior who would break through the meaningless cycle of life and death. The last image is a paradox, because the women gather subsistence from an empty space in the city—the “vacant lots” from the first stanza. The world is a spiritual void, yet it we continue to survive in it without meaning.